The contradictory opposites of poison and cure is expressed in the Greek word pharmakon, a drug can be both harmful and beneficial, a poison and a cure. So too with books.
The poison is to lose oneself in books to the detriment of practical everyday life.
“When there is a great deal of reflection and intellectual knowledge, and very little experience, the result is like those books which have on each page two lines of text to forty lines of commentary.”Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena
In other words, one stops thinking for oneself and becomes the mouthpiece for another person’s ideas. One ceases to be a person.
A large library does not necessarily mean that one has acquired a vast amount of knowledge. Appearances can be deceiving. There is a term in Japanese for people who collect and pile up books without reading them: tsundoku.
A small amount of knowledge that has been fully considered by oneself is worth more than large amounts of disorganised knowledge.
“The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time… A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena
What is considered a “good book” for one, may not be so good for another at all. We all lead unique lives with different interests and priorities. The popular saying rings true: “Tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
To find good books is part of the old adage “know thyself”, the quest for self-knowledge, which can lead to self-transformation, and finally, to self-transcendence, i.e., to look beyond ourselves to that infinitely more wise and “higher self”, whatever name one might give it. One can only surrender to the numinous. This is the cure, to deeply transform ourselves, others, and the world.
Books allows us to access the great minds of the past and have a personal inner dialogue with those who have explored the perennial patterns that concern the human condition, which is the proper definition of myth. We all live our own myth, or rather, the myth lives us.
The following are a few books from my library. Good books are to be read, and re-read. These have proved crucial for my own pursuit of meaning, for they have made me who I am. Perhaps they can help you too. The books are listed in no particular order of priority.
My advice is to go with what resonates with you most at this very moment. Throw yourself into the fire of life, and you may find nuggets of gold where you least expect it.
“If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? … We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”Franz Kafka, Letter to Oskar Pollak (27 January 1904)
Carl Jung / Jungians
Camus, Sartre, Kafka
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